While many – particularly Yahoo and Bing – resist the use of Google as a verb, researching what people “Googled” in a given year presents a great snapshot of what news stories, celebrity happenings and hot trends captured public attention. For many years now, Google has published an annual list of subjects people looked for worldwide. The top Google searches this year reflect the top stories that dominated the news starting with the mystery disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight through the ongoing fight against the Ebola epidemic.
Information about Oscar-winning comedian and actor Robin Williams received the greatest traffic on the search engine in 2014. According to Google, that traffic included information about his death in August, Williams’ movies, and his career in general. Google’s vice president of search Amit Singhal even reported that queries for information on depression and mental health rose after the actor’s suicide.
Other top searches globally included this year’s World Cup soccer competition, missing Malaysian Flight 370, the Ice Bucket Challenge charity craze and those popular Flappy Birds. Also up there as popular topics on Google were ISIS, the Disney film Frozen and topics related to the Olympics in Sochi at the beginning of the year. Another leading worldwide digital exploration item that did not draw as much traffic in the U.S. was Conchita Wurst, who was the Eurovision winner. In the U.S. the list was largely the same as the worldwide one, but Ferguson replaced Wurst and another big news item involving Russia – the Ukraine – got more traffic in America than Sochi.
It was no surprise that the most searched female celebrity this year was Beyoncé. The singer was followed by Jennifer Lawrence. Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande scored a lot of attention, too. Top males drawing attention other than Williams included Jay Z, One Direction’s Harry Styles, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Beckham. Other deaths that fueled Google traffic this year, besides Williams, included Paul Walker, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Cory Monteith, Joan Rivers and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Google also tracks more routine topics people seek on the Search engine, particularly health related and diet-related queries. Ebola got the most digital and news attention, but the flu is a perennial leader as people look up symptoms and treatments. Pregnancy and Asperger syndrome also drew a lot of activity. On food, people often search for the number of calories in items (bananas, pumpkin pie, apples and eggs were popular this year), details about trendy diets (i.e. Paleo, Gluten-free and Atkins), and recipes for a variety of dishes or using certain ingredients (e.g., chicken).
The top Google searches last year were the deaths of Nelson Mandela, Paul Walker and Cory Monteith as well as top news items like this year, including the Boston Marathon, Royal Baby and North Korea. Surprisingly, top items in 2013 included technology topics like iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy s4 and PlayStation 4; tech items – except the Flappy Birds app – did not attract as much attention in 2014.
By Dyanne Weiss